Archive for the 'faith' Category

Religious faith

March 22, 2015

I knew a person, over a period of many years, who pretty clearly thought himself a faithful and devoted son of his Church, the Roman Catholic Church.  And he pretty clearly hoped I would convert and join, which did not happen.  One of the last times I saw him, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, he talked briefly about his faith while we were having lunch.  By then, I had spent a good deal of time and energy on things spiritual myself, and so maybe that was why that time around I noticed things about his faith that had never struck me in the decades I had known him before.

When he talked about his belief in God, it was flat, it was a thought about Jesus Christ being a friend, and it was like a memorized response about ritualistically calling upon Jesus and/or God.  I remember thinking, “Well, everyone is entitled to their own version of faith, but it is so different from my own experience of engaging with God and flow.  I thought his faith would come across as more substantial — after all, it is he who thinks I am the one in need of ‘saving.'”

I said something during the conversation that revealed to him the depth of my belief and faith, and I remember he seemed startled that I knew whatever it was I disclosed and that I could express it in my own words and metaphors and from my own experience.  But I was not there to play “¿Quién es más religioso?”

I bring it up because while I had previously realized that faith is always a very personal thing, I learned that I cannot know what another person means when they say they are religious.  It could mean any number of things to them, and chances are, it doesn’t mean the same thing to me.  My point is that we would be better off talking in specifics rather than making a general claim about “being religious.”  For example, for me, being religious involves being intimately connected to my own soul, being able to submerge the elephant rider of the ego into the elephant of the greater self, being able to throw myself onto the waters and float, being able to pull my thinking and emotions out of the way and hear guidance bubble up, being able to distinguish what I want from what serves, being able to find compassion for someone who is damaging me (and not expecting, instead, for them to have compassion for me).

I am glad if people are religious, even if their way of being religious is very different from my own.  But that doesn’t mean the implications of our respective ways of being religious will be the same.  Maybe it takes a lunch conversation to find out.



March 1, 2015

I was wondering the other day whether some atheism has roots in the person’s sensitivity to feeling controlled, that their concept of a divine force gets mixed up with a perception that greater power is (necessarily) about controlling others.

I can also imagine some people having a similar problem with what we call “surrender:”  it could get confused with something humiliating or unpleasant, since when humans do it with each other that seems to be a part of what’s involved.

My point is that talking about divinity or surrender won’t make any headway with someone who perceives those things in a negative way, even if that negativity is a product of their own outlook — the point at which the speaker and the audience diverge occurred at point much prior to the discussion of divinity or surrender.


November 6, 2014

When I read something that suggests that I am falling short in my attitude and behavior, I can sometimes see clearly that the frontal approach of trying to change my attitude and behavior directly (and conform to what is being suggested) is not going to produce what’s needed.

Instead, I need to address a broader issue, and if I do so, then more helpful attitude and behavior will follow.

“Fake it until you make it” has never seemed to me a preferable method, I prefer to put in backfill and arrive at the surface after having built a foundation one step at a time.

This approach is also helpful if my task is not to arrive at the final goal but to go back and fill a missing stage of development.  (I think if one believes in reincarnation, this concept makes more sense.)

So I check in with my guidance:  I bring only my willingness, I open up my heart, and I listen (and I don’t mean “people pleasing”).

I’ve heard other women lament having given away their power and needing to reclaim it.  That is a Scylla I am aware of, as I am also aware of the Charybdis of following my own ego-driven ideas.

What I am called to do may also not look like what others recognize as being helpful in and of itself.  I think that makes sense if what one is doing is filling in a missing piece that isn’t very pretty and is an intermediate (ugly duckling?) stage in something larger.  That missing piece may involve learning to hear, trust, and follow one’s own inner guidance, for example, and not privileging another human being’s teachings over one’s own understanding.  One can be not only too rich and too thin but also too deferential to human guides, it seems to me.  Of course, there is a difference between oppositional defiance and independence as a part of personal development.

Sometimes what I need to do is to strengthen my spiritual practice;  that will fill in what needs filling in and attitude and behavior will organically change as a consequence.

Fishing out feathers

October 31, 2014

There were about a dozen swans on the Res yesterday, a heron, two cormorants, a bunch of geese and ducks.

Not surprisingly, there are feathers along the shoreline in places.  I sometimes clamber down to the water’s edge and fish a couple out.  If the shore is too muddy close to the water or the feather is too far off in the water, I look for a long branch.  And then I try to snag the feather using the branch.

It’s kind of like a sport or hobby.  I get a kick out of figuring out how to get down to the shore, what stick to use, how to employ it as a tool.

I am not always very good at the snagging part.  Sometimes I end up pushing the feather further away or sinking it or getting it further stained or covered with muck.

So I ask the universe for help.  I admit this is a pretty silly context in which to ask for the help of the universe, but on the other hand it is very good practice for “turning things over.”  I know I can’t get that feather back without help, and I throw myself on the mercy of those forces beyond me, my motions become more effective, and I lift the feather from the water with my stick.

The other piece is how refreshed I feel afterwards.  I have succeeded in completely distracting myself from all the cares and tasks seemingly on my plate, and for a few minutes, I am just in the moment of fishing out a feather, and in the arms of the universe if I’ve asked for help.  The physical activity I think also contributes to the catharsis.

Do it just because it’s better to have done it

October 13, 2014

I was reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation, and I had a reaction to the idea he talked about and illustrated with a quotation of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, about not judging and then not being judged, not condemning and then not be condemned, etc.

Father Rohr doesn’t seem to be saying we do these things in order to obtain them in return, so I am not criticizing what I read.

But it made me think that what I seem to learn from my own life is to do these things because it seems to be the better course — there seems to be less friction and more progress, but I don’t necessarily “get back” what I “give out.”

For me, this realization is important because I tend to get hung up on “What am I doing wrong?”  when the issue may well be a lesson in “You can do your part fine, but you don’t have control over how others do theirs, and all of you collectively may even do everything fine, but the situation may still come out in a way you don’t like.”  [There are other possible explanations, including that one is facilitating a problematic exchange between two other people, who without the facilitation would never have any exchange with each other at all.  And of course, sometimes the answer may very well be that I am doing something wrong — but just as one can be too thin or too rich, I have found that barking up the virtuous tree of self-correction isn’t helpful if it’s actually the wrong tree, if it’s really not about that — one can overdo self-correction, too.  A simplistic model — such as the answer is always self-correction — may well be inaccurate, as inaccurate as a model that it’s always somebody else’s fault.]

I think for me it’s a subset of faith, to do the not judging and the giving, etc., and to trust that that contributes to the greater good, even when the feedback is less than clear-cut.

Faith, color blindness, optical illusions, and doubt

May 24, 2014

Some people have what turns out to be a temporary willingness to believe in forces in the universe greater than themselves — God, if you prefer — and then lose the sense that such forces exist.  I’ve wondered how that loss of faith occurs.

My current thinking is that in some cases it is a matter of entertaining, however briefly, another way of looking at the situation, and hence the world, another “explanation” of what is going on, an explanation that is considerably less expansive and optimistic and encouraging.  You look at the phenomenon from another angle and all of a sudden you don’t see the colored numbers among the dots on the colorblindness test picture, you don’t see both ways of looking at one of those pictures that contains two images that can’t be viewed simultaneously but can be toggled between.

Here’s an example.  I have lots of flowers in my gardens and grass I didn’t plant, columbines, bleeding hearts, purple spikey things, black eyed susans, wild rose bushes, fuzzy pinkish half-spheres — a lot.  It can feel to me as if nature is helping me with my gardening.  I confess I can’t always keep up with doing my gardening myself and I am tickled when there are beautiful plants I didn’t plant.  I feel embraced and supported by the universe.

I could see the phenomenon instead in terms of a series of steps:  the scattering of seeds through the activity of birds, the scattering of seeds by the wind, what have you.  I don’t say these mechanisms don’t occur, but that “engineering” explanation falls flat for me.  I see the flowers and I am thrilled.  The flatness of the engineering explanation and my thrill don’t correspond.

In a way I think I have an attachment to the universe and its currents, just as I work on detachment from the world of human activity and its ups and downs.  I understand that some people do the opposite, are attached to the human activity part of life and detach from the currents of the universe.  Of course, some people are able to maintain helpful relationships with both the currents and the activity.

I think lack of faith, though, can be a real difficulty with recalling how to look at the world with trust in the universe beyond what we understand through the engineering explanations.  The failure of trust may occur, I am thinking, just from seeing the infrastructure.  I think it occurs when the competing explanation shuts out a basis for hope that there is always grace, always a spiritual safety net that may come into play when it serves.  I think it occurs when there is a sense from the competing explanation that there is something wrong — some unfairness because of others’ behavior or some cause for embarrassment or shame on account of one’s own — if the explanation implies something is wrong with the world, I think the perspective of faith may be difficult to maintain.

I have this difficulty with interpersonal relationships much more than I have it with my relationship with the universe at large.  Once trust has been undermined between me and another, the whole relationship tends to deflate.  I have difficulty going back to seeing the person and the attitude behind their behavior the way I did before; I have a hard time believing in them any longer.  If they do nothing to address that head on, the relationship kind goes into an agnostic category:  yes, I believe you might be involved with me, but no, I’m not all in anymore, I am holding something back, not necessarily because I’ve decided to, but because I have a sense of “fool me once, shame’s on you, fool me twice …” that is making that impossible for me to do.

I don’t do this with God.  I tend to figure it’s me and my not looking at the thing in the most helpful way, when I have trouble accepting something in my life.  I have found that when I’ve taken this approach in human social relations, I get taken advantage of.  It has been the rare situation in my experience to have a major falling out with someone and then be able to negotiate back to a close relationship (and not for want of trying) — the falling out usually turns out to be for good reason and one that will repeat if I give it a second or third opportunity to repeat.

Et tu, Brute?

October 19, 2013

It occurred to me that I should follow up my previous post with a note that, just prior to my moment of catching the spark of faith while watching a concert on TV, I had experienced one of those “Et tu” moments, when someone you didn’t expect to do something that feels like betrayal, does something that feels like betrayal, and also feels like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  I suspect this prior experience is relevant to what happened next, perhaps like the drawing back of the slingshot before it releases its projectile.

And as a footnote to this note, I would mention that the particular incident that produced this feeling of betrayal did not at the time really seem to me intellectually to be the big deal it felt like to me emotionally — I wasn’t entirely sure at the time why it bothered me as much as it did.  In retrospect, I can understand better why it had the impact on me it did, especially if I see it in terms of its being the repetition or reenactment of an old pattern of events for someone who struggled to find faith and whom I was helping.  I think they had experienced the same sequence of events without achieving faith, and I kind of did it for them, like the narrator in the A.A. Milne poem about Binker.

One last note.  As I was proofreading the last paragraph, I discovered I had typed “achieving space” for what I intended to type as “achieving faith.”  As I said in my last post, I seem to talk to myself.

Talking to myself

October 19, 2013

I wrote a comment last night (to Gail Collins’ column about Texas politics) about waiting for Sen. Ted Cruz to flame out and wanting to open the flue wider to accelerate the process.

This morning, when I was looking to see if there were any more replies I needed to respond to, it occurred to me that this is what I think a central task in life is in general:  to open up our flues (the crown chakra, according to some people) and let us follow our trajectories instead of remaining stalled.

When I wrote my comment, I was focused on how Cruz really does remind me of the Republican presidential hopefuls last election who showed up at all those debates during primary season and flamed out (I started the comment with how I am reminded of them by him).  They went out one at a time, it seemed, seriatim, and I had the sensation of waiting for the process to run its course until we got a nominee.  Here, I hear Cruz as a demagogue with an unconstructive approach to governing and a negative impact on the federal legislative community (that would be Congress I’m talking about).  So then I got into the flame metaphor, and and thought about our wood burning stove, and there you go, my comment.

But I really am concerned with the issue of opening up our spiritual fontanel (the place in a baby’s skull where the plates don’t fuse until after birth), as well as opening up our hearts.  If I think of our wood burning stove, we need to open the door to put wood in the stove and we need an open flue for the chimney to draw the way it needs to in order for the combustion process to occur effectively and efficiently and not to fill the room with smoke.  I think there’s a parallel for all those things in our spiritual lives.  (Maybe I will elaborate on them in a subsequent post.)

What is so mysterious, I think, is, whence the spark?  How do we catch a spark?  Henri Nouwen wrote Life of the Beloved I think in the hopes of doing that, but apparently succeeded mainly in explaining to those already with the spark what that’s all about.

I feel as though I “caught the spark” listening to a concert on TV during which I thought I perceived something like faith in the eyes of one of the musicians.  It was as if his faith ignited mine.  Why those details were part of my experience of relocating my faith I think has to do with old karma and past lives, which I mention in order to explain why I don’t think that listening to a concert is going to be the answer for everybody.

I see the acquisition of that which reveals the world as it looks through faith, as a positive thing.  Obviously, not everybody shares this characterization.  Some people see it more like the catching of a virus that confers pathology.  Some other people pay lip service to seeing faith as a positive thing, but believe and behave in ways that are not consistent with a perspective through faith.

So when I find myself teaching myself something, what is that all about?  It, to my way of thinking, is about pulling out some understanding deep within us which we have trouble bringing up to conscious thinking.  It emerges through some other process, and then we can read it back with our conscious minds.  It is clearly consonant with some inchoate understandings we already have, but it helps us conceptualize them more clearly.  If this were occurring through the imagination and cognitive thinking, I don’t think we would have the sensation of reading the thing written as if we are a separate person from the person who wrote it.

Artificial byproduct or precious goal?

October 18, 2013

Well, I’m glad somebody had more patience with the NYTimes and their focus on debunking faith than I do.  There’s a letter today that talks about the writer’s research finding that people who endure trauma need their faith.

This way of stating the scientist perspective makes it easier to see the resolution:  faith is both a byproduct of trauma and a goal of development.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations of late have talked about the role of suffering in our spiritual development, including today’s.  Religion and the letter writer (Shane Sharp, an assistant professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University) are in agreement:  trauma can result in the state of mind of faith.

Scientists seem to think of this result as an artificial state of mind, while the religious camp sees it as reaching a desirable goal.  They are describing the same thing, only characterizing it differently.  The disagreement is all about the adjectives, the judgment of the phenomenon.

That leads to the questions of, why we are judging the phenomenon, how we should judge it, by what criteria are we judging it, etc.

But it also, for me, provides the unification of the two competing camps:  the phenomenon occurs, our need to appraise it is just our human need, not one that exists outside of ourselves.

At the highest reaches of the universe there is no appraising and judging.  It is the state of achieving “Let it be.”  In scientific circles I thought we focus on the objective and withhold our editorial response.

We can all just rest on the narrow point of equilibrium that suffering produces the phenomenon of faith, that faith exists.

Some of us celebrate it, some of us deride it, some of us rely on it, some of us wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.  But we agree that the phenomenon exists.

That, to me, is an example of how we bridge a perceived gap.

Post with no name, inadvertently published

October 18, 2013

Faith allows a person to see the world differently.  This allows the person to navigate situations, perceive insights, and accept the world as it is in ways different from those accessible to people without it.  It provides a support humans don’t receive or provide to each other.

Is it “real”?  It certainly has utility.  Is it desirable, or a dangerous artificial construct?  Depends on who is doing the looking.  I am all too good at seeing the world through the eyes of others.  Left to my own devices, I see it through faith.  But if I share very closely with someone without faith, I can see it their way.  And my reaction is, “Why would you want to, if you had the choice?”